Letter : The best way to feed a baby

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The Independent Online
Sir: As agencies concerned with safeguarding children's rights and health through the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding, we would like to voice our concern over new regulations for controlling the marketing of baby milk, which were recently laid before Parliament.

The new law, under the Food Safety Act 1990 (statutory instruments 1995 no. 77), will allow brand name advertising of baby milks to be targeted at mothers through the health care system in the UK, despite the overwhelming advice to the contrary of health care professionals.

For many years there has been incontrovertible evidence that breastmilk alone is the best possible nourishment for the first months of a baby's life. It provides protection against many common infections and long-term diseases. For example, it has been estimated that gastroenteritis is up to 10 times more common among bottle-fed babies in the UK than breast- fed ones and that its treatment costs the NHS at least £18m a year.

The Government should be under no illusions about the likely impact of this law. With the right support and advice it is rare for a mother to be unable to breast-feed; yet only 63 per cent of British mothers even start to breast-feed. In Norway, where there is no commercial promotion, 99 per cent of babies are breast-fed at birth and over 90 per cent are still breast-fed at four months. Coupled with recent cuts in the budget of the Health Education Authority, these new regulations could seriously restrict a mother's access to reliable information and advice.

Yours faithfully,

NICHOLAS HINTON

(Director General

Save the Children)

A. W. MACARA

(Council Chairman

British Medical Association)

London, SE5

22 February

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